This Page Updated:
Sat Jan 24, 1998
Page 1: The Latest Version of the Arcade
By: Evan Jones
Internet gaming has been steadily gaining in popularity over the last few years. It all begun with simple text based multiplayer role playing games called MUDs. People would spend dozens of hours connected to these virtual online communities. As Internet gaming systems like Jay Cotton's Kali began to show up, people could now play any standard network game over the Internet. Internet gaming became a reality.
Kali surfaced near the same time that Doom was popular, so it was the most popular game played. With Kali and its predecessor iFrag Doom fanatics were killing each other over long distances. The drawback to these systems is that the Internet was not designed for fast action gaming. It was designed to carry files back and forth, not to be pushing a data packet across a few thousand kilometers in one tenth of a second. Playing any game over the Internet is lagged. You send a command and a few tenths of a second later you actually do it. It is annoying, but there is no real solution.
Playing games over the Internet is a lot of fun, but every single player hates the lag. Some people were obviously thinking about how much they would love to play some of these games over a local area network (LAN) so they could play without lag. These people thought that they might even enjoy playing enough to pay for it. Those who decided to take the idea further went about getting some retail space and getting the huge investment to buy a few top of the line computer systems and to network them together. They set up their locations, opened for business and prayed that they could make back the cost of the computers.
Some network arcades are successful. Others have died the horrible death of a failed business venture. Because of the high startup cost the network arcades are risky. However there is the chance for profits in this very new field. Many are popping up in almost every major city in North America. Look around and ask people in your area if there is one nearby. There are even large corporations entering the arena, like SlamSite.
Most of the network arcades that are open these days have at least a multimedia Pentium 200 with 15" monitors and 16 MB of RAM, usually with 3D accelerated video cards, and some will go higher then that. One owner that I had a chance to talk to held the opinion that most of his customers have computers at home, and many can play the games over the Internet. His theory is that to attract more people, and to keep them coming back, his systems need to be top of the line.
The majority of the arcades host tournaments or have challenge ladders set up for official competition, usually with special reduced rates, to attract more business. Quake is a very popular choice at every location I have been to. Part of the popularity may be due to the many options and add-ons available provide many different multiplayer scenarios, from team death matching to capture the flag. However Quake is not the only game that is played. Other popular ones include Blizzard's WarCraft 2 and Diablo, Westwood Studio's Command and Conquer and Lucasarts' Jedi Knight.
The best part of the network arcades experience is being there in the same room with your teammates or your enemies. It is the same game that you could be playing over the Internet, but being able to shout trash talk to your enemies or status reports to your teams transforms it into a totally different situation. Team dynamics play a huge part in organized affairs like capture the flag Quake. If there is a network arcade in your area, gather a group of people who like your favorite game and give it a try.
The biggest problem with this new version of the arcade is the legal issues. Is it legal for these people to make money off of other's games? Many companies demand monthly fees for a commercial exploitation license. These monthly fees are brutal for the owners, since many other arcades will not even try to contact the software companies, they will simply use the game. One owner said that until the software companies start to crack down on the arcades that are using the games without permission, he cannot stay competitive by paying licence fees. He hopes that all companies will take id Software's liberal attitude. id's newest game, Quake, is free for commercial exploitation unless you are making over $2000 on the game, then id Software gets 10% of the profits.
The future is uncertain for the network arcades. The Internet is constantly being upgraded to support more information and to make it faster. Once it reaches the point that high speed digital connections are affordable to the public these arcades will be out of business. Cable modems are the latest threat. A cable modem gives owners a 24 hour a day, consistant connection to the Internet that is very, very fast. For now the network arcade will have a small niche market, but in the future that niche will be gone.